Batteries not included

Once upon a time, a pair of socks or a nice tie made a good Christmas present. Well, maybe not a good one, but at least an acceptable one. These days, it seems that unless it goes ‘ping’ and has more memory than the average elephant, it is not worthy of being anything more than a stocking filler.

And so it is that

Christmas has come and gone, and around the globe there are people staring at new pieces of technology with a perplexed expression.

Let’s face it – technology is a great thing, but unless you read the manual (and who does) it can be tough to figure out. Many of us grew up in homes where the time on the video machine was always blinking, because dad could never figure out just how to set the time, yet steadfastly refused to read the manual. Even though this could easily turn into a lecture on reading manuals, let’s just consider that a lost cause and move on.

The unexpected first challenge faced with any piece of technology is getting it out of the packaging. Remarkably, this can sometimes be more challenging than getting the device itself to work. Maybe manufacturers design the packaging as an IQ test – if you are not smart enough to open the packaging, you are not smart enough to use the device. At least that is better than placing a pair of scissors in a package that requires a pair of scissors to open.

As devices have become more and more complex, the accompanying manuals have grown to epic proportions, not far short of War and Peace, making it highly unlikely that anyone other than the very desperate or terminally bored would attempt to wade through them. Some manufacturers have even given up on providing a comprehensive manual entirely, rather directing customers to a pdf file available from the company website.

At least the overly complicated manuals have led to a new trend – the quick reference guide. So for those who refuse to read the manual, this is a way out, as it provides the basics, like where to find the on/off switch, without the need to wade through heaps of disclaimers and health warnings.

Of course, merely finding the on button can be a challenge. As devices have become sleeker with minimalist designs dominating, big red buttons are just not fashionable any more. Even once you have found the on button, merely pressing it once might not do the trick. Some require you to hold the button down for a five-count before the device will switch one. However, if neither options works, you have either not found the right button yet, or the device needs a bit of power first.

If the device came with a charger, it might need to be plugged in before it will work properly. Many devices have an initial charge period well in excess of the normal charge time in order to fully charge a new battery, so leaving a device plugged in overnight can be a good option. Of course, some devices ship without the battery installed, so be sure to thoroughly check the packaging for any small parts before discarding it. Some rare devices even use regular batteries, often not included in the packaging, so unless you have spares lying around, you might need to steal some from the nearest remote control to get going.

Many devices can connect to a computer, whether to load music and videos onto the device, or download photos and videos taken. However, this usually requires some form of software to be installed on the computer. Did the device come with a CD or DVD? Pop this into the computer and click ‘OK’ whenever it asks you a question – this will usually get the software installed and allow you to get on with the more interesting part – playing with your new toy.

Of course, many devices can connect to the internet, whether through a WiFi network or through the mobile telephone network. However, unless your wireless network is unsecured (in which case you need to fix it immediately!) connecting to the network will require you to input a password for the network. The relevant code can often be found on the bottom of your wireless network router. Once the code has been entered in the device, it should link to the network automatically next time. However, the same procedure will probably be required wherever else you hope to connect.

For devices that connect through the mobile network, the setup will usually be done in store, which takes that stress away. However, setting up e-mail addresses to be linked to the device can also take a bit of time and might require you to brave the quick reference guide again.

Of course, if all else fails and you have a six year old, or can borrow one from the neighbours, the kid will have the most complicated device sussed in seconds. So much for the wisdom that comes with age.